Warm welcome for warship job boost

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The Independent Online

British shipbuilders were celebrating a millennium jobs boost today after the Ministry of Defence signed contracts to develop a new fleet of Royal Navy vessels.

British shipbuilders were celebrating a millennium jobs boost today after the Ministry of Defence signed contracts to develop a new fleet of Royal Navy vessels.

Two new aircraft carriers are to be built at a cost of around £2 billion to replace the ageing Invincible class of carriers now in service with the Royal Navy.

Another 12 destroyers, called Type 45s, will be built to replace the present Type 42s at a cost of £12 billion.

The ships will provide the backbone of the Royal Navy's air defences for the first half of the next century.

Defence Procurement Minister Baroness Symons said last night that three contracts worth £100 million had been signed for defence companies to study designs of the new ships and where they should be built.

She said: "The contracts we have signed today chart the way ahead for two programmes which are of huge significance for the Royal Navy's capability to respond flexibly to the challenges we will face in the 21st century and which underpin the plans for a new Navy which we laid out in last year's Strategic Defence Review.

"Both programmes will also bring significant benefit to the UK shipbuilding industry, securing existing jobs and providing a significant number of new jobs well into the next millennium.

"Our plans do not stop here. New nuclear-powered submarines, frigates, mine warfare vessels, assault ships and supporting vessels are already under construction, all of them in the UK.

"You would have to look back 25 years to find a shipbuilding programme on a similar ambitious scale."

Ministry of Defence officials will not put a figure on how many jobs the ships will create or safeguard when the ships are actually ordered in five years time, but say it will be in the "thousands".

The five yards capable of building the ships are in Glasgow, Belfast, Tyneside, Birkenhead and Barrow.

British Aerospace Land and Sea Systems and Thomson-CSF are the defence companies asked to look at options for the future aircraft carrier expected to come into service in 2012.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said Marconi in Glasgow, which was formerly called Yarrow's, would develop and build the first of the Type 45 frigates, which is expected to enter service in 2007.

"After that there will be a competitive process, which has yet to be decided, for building further frigates of this type."

Shadow Defence Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "Whilst we welcome any announcement that would guarantee the promised Royal Navy aircraft carriers are built, the big questions that have to be answered are when will the orders be placed and will the Chancellor guarantee funding for the shipbuilding programme?

"The defence budget is already under huge pressure with the Treasury taking £1 billion a year out of it."

But Scottish Secretary John Reid welcomed the announcements by the Ministry of Defence as good news for Scotland.

He said: "I am delighted that GEC Marconi have been awarded the prime contract on the Type 45 Destroyer. This announcement will be welcomed at Yarrow's.

"Obviously more work on the Type 45 Destroyer is further down the line but it is encouraging that the Scottish interest continues to be represented."

The move means work at the yard, which specialises in defence work, will be secured for a number of years.

Scottish First Minister Donald Dewar, who is the local MP and MSP, welcomed the news and said: "I am very pleased to hear that Yarrow's has been confirmed as the yard which will build the first of the class of new ships.

"This is a testament to their commitment and expertise."

The announcement was welcomed as "excellent news" by the GMB, which represents most of the workers at the Glasgow yard.